Thanks to my Indian heritage, getting my hands on a Sri Lankan travel visa was easy since Sri Lanka is pretty much like an extension of India. Most European/Western citizens are allowed to enter Sri Lanka without a previously obtained visa. For India and other remaining countries, tourists need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) from the Sri Lankan Government. It’s a straightforward process found on this website. Just fill up the application form and pay a visa fee online.The ETA will be mailed to you within a few hours. Have a printout of the ETA in hand and produce it at the Immigration Office on arrival. Voila! Welcome to Sri Lanka.
The official currency of the country is Sri Lanka Rupees (LKR). Sri Lanka is a considerably inexpensive country when it comes to accommodation and transportation costs but the food is a little pricier, for some reason. At the time of writing this travel blog, the exchange rate was 1 GBP = 184 LKR. Currency exchangers are available at airports as well as within the city since Sri Lanka is a popular tourist destination and the country knows the tourists’ needs. Carry some US dollars with you, as a few places do accept them. It can even be cheaper to pay in Dollars than in LKR at times.
One of the most important things that every traveller needs are Internet connectivity. Most of the cafes and hotels have Wi-Fi installed but their speeds are usually limited to basic Internet users. I bought an Etisalat(local network) SIM card with a 10GB 3g data pack at the Airport which cost me about 2,000 rupees (11 GBP). During my stay in Sri Lanka, I travelled to the Center and the Southern parts of the country, while using many modes of transportation. The network wasn’t always the best one, but it was good enough to provide me with the basic connectivity to chat and coordinate with other travellers while on the go.
I stayed at multiple hostels as well as a few hotels during my 10-day trip to Sri Lanka. As I have already mentioned, it’s not the most expensive country in the region and accommodation costs are not extremely high. I chose to stay at a hotel to celebrate New Year’s Eve and a couple of other reasons. I also had the chance to experience hostel living in many cities. They were not really the best experience but that’s mainly because the hostel culture hasn’t fully bloomed in Sri Lanka yet. Hotels are considerably cheap, so there is high competition with really low pricing hostels. The ones I lived in were pretty good and gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people. In Colombo, I stayed at the Thilanka Beach Resort (22$PN) in Mount Lavinia; in Dambulla, I stayed at the Hotel Tinaya (14$P/N); in Galle, I stayed at the Maggie Garden Hostel (10$ P/N); in Hikkaduwa, I stayed at the Hikkaduwa Train Hostel (5$ P/N); and finally, I stayed at the Sleep Cheap hostel (8$ P/N) at Ella.
As always, this section is the most important section. I have broken down the different modes of transportation available, into different parts. There are three main transportation options available in Sri Lanka for inter-city or intra-city travel travels.
Just like in the major cities of India, Tuk Tuks are the most common way of travelling within the cities of Sri Lanka. Undoubtedly the lifeline of Sri Lanka, inter-city TukTuks are also available, but those can turn out to be quite expensive. As popular and exotic as they may seem to a Western tourist, there are always certain things that should be kept in mind while travelling in a TukTuk. Most TukTuk drivers will try to argue over the price even before you get on them. They prefer to charge rates instead of using the meter, them for obvious reasons. Always try to book a TukTuk with a meter installed. You may have to skip a few to catch the right TukTuk but it’s never too much trouble since there are hundreds of them crossing the streets 24*7. I am used to the process of deft negotiation and other such tricks since Indian auto rickshaws work in a similar way.
Sri Lanka is an island country and travelling from one city to another takes less than 4 hours (unless you take a bus from the Southern end to the Northern tip). Local buses are the most common way of inter-city travelling. They can be a little uncomfortable since it’s always full of people and sometimes, you may even have to wait for a few stops until you get an empty seat. But in spite of all that, it’s the cheapest and the fastest way to travel from one city to another. Some tourist friendly routes even have AC buses available to make things easier. Most buses in Colombo leave from the Colombo Fort bus station, but if you are unsure about your stoppage, just ask the TukTuk drivers help and they will guide you the way. Even though they are trying to dupe you into paying extra, the drivers tend to be really helpful when it comes to such cases. The Sri Lankans were one of the most humble and kind population that I have ever come across.
I can’t say that the trains in Sri Lanka are the most efficient way of travelling, but I can definitely guarantee you that they are the most beautiful way of travelling. Trains are a simply superb option when it comes to enjoying the scenic beauty of the country while travelling. I took two long trains of more than 12-hour journeys back and forth, and enjoyed my time on the train eating local food at the stations, admiring tea plantations on the way and capturing the most scenic moments of the country. There are not many trains available and ticket reservations have to be done at the train stations in person. This leaves little time for flexibility if you have pre-planned your train journey. In the Southern parts of Sri Lanka, trains run across the coast, next to the sea, which is an incredibly beautiful sight to see. In the Central parts, the trains run through the natural beauty of perfectly synchronised tea plantations and lush green mountains. Trains are not expensive but require advance bookings, especially when it comes to the popular routes. A train journey across Sri Lanka is a must no matter what route you choose. Just take a train ride to enjoy the land of exquisiteness.